Sarah, wife of Abraham, seems like an ideal candidate for a girl crush. Her very name means ‘princess’. Her beauty was legendary (Gen 12:11). Many women (I'm one of them!) have been inspired by the Bible's call to imitate her persevering faith and trusting submission (Heb 11:8-12, 1 Pet 3:1-7).
So when my Bible study group came to Sarah's story, I think we were all expecting something pretty special. But we were unimpressed.
Sarah is conniving, bossy and mean. She laughs sceptically at God's promises (Gen 18:10-15). Hoping to get a son through her maidservant Hagar, she leads her husband into polygamy, then blames him and treats Hagar with cruelty (Gen 16:1-6, 21:8-20). She's like a spoiled prima donna, throwing tantrums when things don't go her way.
You can understand her bitterness: she was 65 when she left a secure life in cosmopolitan Ur to became a nomad in answer to God's call to her husband (Gen 12:4-5). She was barren in an age when childlessness meant not just grief, but disgrace and destitution (Gen 16:1-2, 17:17, 18:12). The future of her family—the future of a promised nation—depended on her womb's fruitfulness. No wonder her faith wavered at times.
There are a few glimpses of light: she followed her husband faithfully on his wanderings; she submitted willingly to Abraham even when his doubtful leadership left her at the mercy of powerful princes (twice!—Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-17). When Isaac was born, her mocking laughter turned to joyous faith: “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me” (Gen 21:6).
The humbler members of our group were glad to find in Sarah a sinner just like us. The perfectionists like me were disappointed by her imperfections. But in the end, we were all encouraged by the story of this wayward heroine, for Sarah's faults shine the spotlight away from herself and onto God—
- God, who brings about his purposes through sinners like us
- God, whose timing is perfect, even when it feels like our hopes will never be realized (Gen 17:17-22)
- God, who is unchanging and faithful through all our doubts and petulant disobedience
- God, who is gracious and compassionate to the destitute (Gen 16:1-16 21:8-21)
- God, whose own joy shines through the naming of Isaac, which means ‘laughter’ (Gen 17:19, 21:6-7)
- God, who prizes even our faltering faith and obedience (Heb 11:8-12, 1 Pet 3:1-7)
- God, who uses weak, sinful humans like Sarah to show that he is the hero of his own story.
This post first appeared in Sola Panel late last week.
first image is by artist Marc Chagall